YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO – The Muskegon Lumberjacks finally got to erase the memory of one of their worst losses of the season.
The Lumberjacks had to wait over a month and a half for a chance to avenge their 5-1 loss to the Youngstown Phantoms on January 12, and they didn’t squander it Saturday.
Muskegon traveled to the eastern edge of Ohio and got the job done in a shootout.
The Lumberjacks lost a 3-1 lead, but recovered enough to make it to the penalty shots, where they outscored the Phantoms 2-0 to secure a 4-3 win.
“The guys certainly remembered the butt-kicking they gave us last time,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “Youngstown’s one of the teams we’re likely to face come playoff time, so it was good to remind them that we’re here and we’re still a good team.”
The Lumberjacks improve to 5-2 against the Phantoms this season, including a pair of wins which needed more than just regulation. The win also stops a two-game losing streak to the Phantoms, who also won on November 10.
Muskegon’s final road game against Youngstown takes place Sunday at 5 p.m. It hosts Youngstown once more this season, on March 22.
The Lumberjacks, who never trailed in the contest, had several heroes step up to get the win.
In regulation Nolan Sullivan stood out with a pair of goals, his 16th and 17th of the season.
Sullivan’s first tally came via the power play at 12:44 of the first period. It gave the visitors their second lead of the game at 2-1, and came on assists from Ryan Savage and Nash Nienhuis.
The Muskegon captain struck again midway through the second period on assists from Alex Yakovenko and Oliver MacDonald for a 3-1 Muskegon lead.
The jump in Sullivan’s step earned him a promotion up to center a line with Danil Gushchin and Bobby Lynch.
“Sully was really good tonight,” Hamilton said of Sullivan, who tied for the team lead with six shots on goal. “He had a nice goal and was exceptional on faceoffs. We definitely wanted him on the ice.”
Bobby Lynch started the scoring just 1:34 into the game. It was his 18th of the season, and was unassisted.
Youngstown rallied in the first and second periods behind Matthew Barnaby and sniper Brett Murray.
Barnaby tied the score at 1-all 6:37 into the first period, and at 3-all with less than two minutes to play in the second period on the power play. Just a few minutes earlier Murray extended his USHL lead in goals scored with his 33rd.
Neither team scored in the third period even though the Lumberjacks carried the play for much of the rest of the game.
“There was a stretch with about seven minutes to play in the third and then again where Youngstown got a couple of chances in overtime, but other than that I thought we dominated,” Hamilton said. “The guys really stuck to the game plan well.”
Brandon Bussi stopped 32 of 35 Phantoms shots to earn the win. He made one really good save on Barnaby in that stretch in the third period to prevent the hat trick and keep the game level.
Bussi also came up big against Barnaby in the shootout. After Gushchin’s beauty of a backhand beat reigning USHL Goaltender of the Week Chad Veltri in the first round, Barnaby tried to answer with his own backhand deke but Bussi was able to stay with it, spread out and keep the puck out of the net.
Veltri stymied Yakovenko next, and Bussi had to face Murray in round two. Bussi again stayed with the shooter the whole way and Murray had nowhere to go even if he didn’t have the puck roll off his stick.
Hamilton went with Egor Afanasyev with a chance to put the game away in the third round, and Afanasyev delivered. The lanky Lumberjack had a similar approach to Gushchin and made it look like he was going to the backhand as well, but at the last second pulled the puck back to the forehand for the easy goal.
“Our pre-scout told us we needed to move him side to side, so that’s what we did,” Hamilton said. “We have several crafty guys in shootouts, and I know I wouldn’t want to be a goalie trying to stop them.”
Muskegon moves up to 73 points and keeps its 12-point advantage over Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings. It also keeps the pressure on Tri-City, which lost Friday but won Saturday to keep its two-point lead on Muskegon in the race for the Anderson Cup.
The Lumberjacks outshot the hosts 5-3 in the 3-on-3 OT. They finished 1-for-3 on the power play while the Phantoms were 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.